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If someone has failed to leave something to you in their Estate that was promised, and at least partly performed, you may be able to make a claim for a breach of contract.

The standard claim against an Estate for the breaking of a promise is a claim under the Law Reform (Testamentary Promises) Act. You can read more about such claims against an Estate here.

However, these types of claims may be insufficient for the amount you believe is owed to you under the contract. If that is the case, you may be able to claim against the Estate for a breach of contract.

Ina well-known case, the Court confirmed that a person can make a claim against an Estate for breach of contract.

In that case, a man and woman in a de facto relationship agreed to purchase a house together. Both parties promised to leave their share in the house to the other in their Will.

Some months later, the man passed away. The woman discovered that had not updated his Will since buying the house, meaning that his original Will was followed. The original Will left the man’s entire Estate to his three sons, and nothing to the woman.

Generally, =a person in a similar position to the woman could make a claim against the man’s Estate. For example, the woman could have claimed that the man had made her a testamentary promise. She could also have claimed her share of his property under relationship property laws.

However, those ordinary claims would likely not have provided the woman with the full amount of what she was promised under the agreement.

The Court held that the woman could make a claim in contract, despite the agreement only being oral. This was because the woman had taken several steps to fulfil her side of the agreement, such as borrowing money for the purchase of the house and updating her own Will, making the contract binding.

This case demonstrates that the courts will recognise a person’s right in contract, even when claiming against an Estate.

If you believe you might have a claim against an Estate, it is important to act quickly and seek legal advice as to what options are available to you.

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-price Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.

Shaun Cousins and Hunter Flanagan-Connors
Wellington